Where the Hell is Paris?
I was sitting in Thomas Knob S. one lonely November eve. I had just watched the sun go down from the rock behind the shelter, and was climbing to the loft. I heard the longest continuous string of profanity ever laced together. About 10 seconds later, here 'it' came. He entered the shelter pack-first, slamming stuff to the floor. I'll spare the softer ears the full discourse of profanities which dotted his every sentence, but I will say he was angered by something.
Yes, I was frightened. I said "You okay?"
"I'm standin' ain't I?" he grumbled.
"Barely" I said, because I'm a smart-ass and thats what a smart-ass would say. I stand true to my colors. He looked at me and winked. I don't know what the wink meant to him, but to me it meant count your blessings and get your butt upstairs. I did. On my way up I asked if he needed anything. He said nothing. I was glad.
I got into my sleeping bag, stomach tied like a lariat. I hoped he would stay on the lower floor, but with the winds picking up, I didn't think he would. I saw the light of flames dancing on the walls and began to relax a little. He was cooking something with the aroma of a rubber-fire, and I didn't want to know what it was. After an hour of clanking, cussing, and cooking, he headed up the ladder. I tried not to look at him or his gear. I couldn't help, no matter how I tried, but notice that his sleeping bag was an old cotton, rectangle bag with the Double-Mint logo on it.
I was begging my smart-ass to stay down. And, for possibly the first time
ever, it did. He wrestled around a bit and finally crawled into his
gum-wrapper bag. I blew my candle out and laid back, staring out the
window. After about 15 minutes of psuedo-silence, I said "Where you
"Paris" he said, matter-of-factly.
Well, now I know there are several states with a Paris. I know there's a country with a Paris. Do I dare ask which? No.
I laid there a while longer, an eternity or more. Finally, I said "Which one?" Nothing. He made some snoring-type noises, though I had never heard them before. I rolled over and finally felt relaxed enough to sleep. In what seemed like ten minutes later, I could hear him shuffle around. He was loading his pack. I quietly checked my watch. 2 friggin' 30?
"Where ya goin'?" I asked, shaking the cobwebs from my head.
"It's 2:30" I informed him.
"Yea. I can't sleep" he said, talking to the floor.
"Where are you headed?"
"I'm not sure. Ain't never sure" he said in a soft, quiet voice. I could tell he was feeling extremely emotional. He was almost melancholy. I actually started to feel sorry for him.
"Why don't you lay back down and we can talk." I've never been short of words, even to large, hulking figures that scared the bejesus out of me.
He walked over to the opening where the ladder comes up and lowered his pack. He started to climb down, and as his head reached floor level, he turned to me and said " Little man, don't ever tell anybody how to hike." He disappeared. In a very short time I could hear nothing from him.
He was gone.
Needless to say, I stared at the ceiling for quite a while. I couldn't even see the ceiling and I stared at it. What did that mean? Where was he going? Would I see him again? Where'd he get that sleeping bag? All questions I wanted the answers to. Where are the Hardy Boys when you need them?
I was glad to see the light of day. Even though it was a rain-drenched foggy day, it was better than the lonely darkness I had been in. Today I would have something to think about as I hiked. Something to take my mind off the hotspots at the backs of my feet. Something to mull over so I wouldn't be thinking of a warm bed and real food. Yes, today I would be able to solve another man's problems.
As I hiked across the viewless opening that is Rhododendron Gap, something very strange happened. A man, I presumed, galloped by on horseback. I could only barely make out the dark figure moving through the soupy air. The incredible rate of speed he was travelling is what was so odd. I'm certain he couldn't see me, but I slipped behind a boulder to be sure. As I listened to his steed carry him farther away, chills ran down my spine.
A blood-curdling scream came from behind me. I lurched forward in a start. I turned around to see if I could figure out the source of the scream, unsure if I really wanted to know. As I stumbled from behind my boulder hiding place, I could hear another horse approaching from the direction of the scream. As I was already heading that direction, I decided to fall into a thicket and take cover.
As my face met the Earth, I could feel a gash opening on my cheek. The weight of my pack was pinning my arms beneath me and I could see my blood on the rocks below my face. The sound of the approaching horse quickly made the throbbing pain seem ancient. I scrambled to situate myself in a better viewing position. Adrenaline was streaming through my veins and my heart raced like never before.
I crouched down and tried to focus on where I thought the horse would pass. In a blink the sound passed. It was so loud, it couldn't have been more than 20 feet away. The ground rumbled with its power. The air deadened with its presence. I never saw it. And then, as quickly as the horse had passed, something clamped on to my shoulder strap and lifted me into the air.
My feet hit the ground with such force that my knees buckled, sending me to the ground again. This time, however, I was eye to boot with the second-ugliest backpacker I had ever seen. He grabbed my straps and pulled me to my feet again. It took every ounce of my existence to remain standing. I could only stare through him, as my eyes couldn't focus on him. After a moment I could feel the blood pulsing through my body again. I figured this had to be good. It caused my cheek to throb with pain, and I knew I was still alive.
I was finally able to look at him. His long, flowing hair draped across his scarred face. He was nearly a foot taller than I and outweighed me by a hundred pounds. The fringe of a tattoo peeked from behind his shirt, and I didn't want to see anymore of it. His backpack was dwarfed by his girth.
"You alright?" he said. I had no idea. Only now was I able to stand on my own.
"Yea, I think so" I forced, blood flowing from my face.
"Let's take a look at that", he started surveying my wound. He took his massive hands and gently squeezed the wound together."Let me clean that out and butterfly it" he said, dropping his backpack. He started opening the top compartment on what, it became obvious, was not a backpack. It was more of a rucksack, containing ropes and pulleys and winches, and finally, a first aid kit. He opened a bottle of fluid and dipped a cotton swab in. I don't know what was in the bottle, but when it hit my tissue, there was no doubting that I indeed was alive.
"Sorry 'bout that. Gotta kill them germs. What are you doing here, anyway?" he asked. He sounded like he genuinely cared. Apparently I didn't realize that I was the one outta place. A backpacker, on the Appalachian Trail, who'd have thought.
"Ummm, backpacking" I shrugged. I still didn't realize that I didn't know what 'he' was doing there. "What about you?"
"Ahhh, we're shooting a documentary on the Feral Ponies here. Too foggy to shoot today, so we're out messin' around."
"What was all that racket? The horses and screamin'?" I asked.
"Sound man. He was just running through some remote sound effects. Our tent's right there" he said, pointing to what I had earlier thought to be a running horse, only to find out now that it was a tent flap blowing in the wind.
I sat down on a boulder while he tended my wound. He was actually very good at it. I could feel my strength coming back, and the last of my fear hit the ground. Relief is a sweet drink. I took a deep, cleansing breath. He finished up and said I might want to get it looked at, but he didn't think I'd need stitches.
I put my pack back on and got my hiking sticks in order. I couldn't wait to get moving. I thanked him and told him I had to get going to make the shelter by dark.
"Oh, are you hiking with that other guy?" he said.
"What other guy?", another chill danced over my spine.
"Ummm, yea, there was a guy through here about an hour ago" he said.
"Going north?" I asked in my most puzzled voiced.
"Hell, I don't know. The same way you're goin'" he was loosing interest as mine was piqued.
Well, I was guessing it was my friend from the night before. I was certainly surprised to find that he was here an hour ago. I had only travelled about a mile or so. I thanked my doctoring friend again and headed out. It was close to noon and still very foggy. I stopped in Massie Gap for a quick bite to eat and to check out my new wound in a mirror. He really did a nice job on it. It was sore and throbbing, but didn't appear to be life-threatening.
The fog seemed to be lifting and it was getting brighter. I ate some trailmix and cream cheese on crackers. I couldn't help but wonder about the guy in front of me. Where had he stayed that he was still that close. Where is he now, and will he be tonight? The food was helping to relax my body, as some of the activities of the morning had left me somewhat over-wrought.
As I was putting everything back in my pack, I realized that my stove was gone. This prompted me to pull everything out of my pack, cussing all the while. I had, indeed, used the stove this very morning. I take no steps without a cup of coffee, and I had had two cups in the loft at Thomas Knob. As I reloaded my pack, I became pissed, then confused, and even scared again. What had happened to my stove? Could I have left it at the shelter? Never. I check too closely. My stove would not be easy to leave, either. It nestles inside a small square aluminum box that makes it look like a bomb.
I finished loading the pack and headed to Old Orchard. I knew I had enough cold food to make it through the night and next day, less the coffee. I couldn't help but retrace my mornings activity. Had the seemingly friendly, doctoring stagehand set me up? I couldn't figure out how he did. I looked at every possible scenario.
My stomach was again knotted. It seems to like to do that. As I hiked on, the weather cleared and I was offered some nice views from Pine Mountain. I was making good time, simply hiking on emotion and frustration. I pondered what I would do if my new hiking enemy was at Old Orchard. Nothing.
I wondered why I considered him an enemy. He had said no more than 20 words to me, yet I feared him, his persona, as I have never feared another man. I will never forget the way the air seemed to die when he came into the shelter. His aura was definitely swimming in some weird cosmos. The one good thing I could feel coming out of this day was the fact that I would never again have to think about what was my worst day of backpacking. It was obvious.
As I decended the switchbacks that lead to Old Orchard, I considered prayer. When the back of the shelter came into view, I become reluctant to continue. I stopped and watched for activity. I could see through the walls of the old log-style shelter. I could see movement. My heart sank. I continued on, deciding to face my nemisis.
As I approached the shelter, I could hear the voice of a woman. A weight heavier than my pack ever was was lifted from my shoulders. As I walked along the side of the shelter I made out the words "I am a traveller of both time and space, to be where I have been". This can't be, I'm thinking. A Led Zepellin fan with a wonderful, lilty voice.
I came around the corner, trying to make some noise so as to not frighten her."How ya doin'?" I said, in my best'don't-be-afraid-of-me' voice.
"Great. And you?"
"Oh, it's been a long day." I really didn't want to go into yet. I knew that I would later, after I settled in a little. I sat with my pack on the edge of the shelter floor and slid out of it. The temps were in the mid-30's, so I took off my sweat-soaked shirt and put on a nice, dry fleece-pullover. I was feeling better already. That would change, however.
I started to look the shelter over to see where I would be best situated. She had her stuff fairly neatly spread out on the left, so I moved to the right. I was spreading out my Thermarest when I noticed, there in the corner, my stove. The chill that had danced down my spine this morning, just ran back up it, kicking every nerve on the way. I looked at her, but she was watching a pot of food boil, humming all the while. I went about my business of setting up for the eve, waiting for her to mention it. She didn't.
Finally, I said "Do you know what that is?" pointing to the stove. "Oh, yea. That's your stove. I forgot all about it." Well, I don't know if I wanted her to know what it was or not. It was all getting too weird for me. "How did you know that?" "You're Felix, aren't you?"
I kinda went into a numb stare. I was looking deep into the aluminum of my stove's casing. I pursed my lips and nodded my head, in a distant trance. I hadn't told anyone my name. I hadn't signed a register. I didn't say a word.
I slowly began to set things up. I was famished and wanted to eat before dark. I got my bed and clothing situated before I finally reached for the stove. I was hesitant to open it, but it was fine. I looked it over and could tell it had been tampered with. I pumped it up and lit it. Much to my surprise, it took right off. In fact, it burnt better than it ever had before. I had always had trouble with it flaming up, if not catching on fire. But now, it was purring along like never before.
When my food was finally done and I sat at the edge of the floor eating, I said to my shelter-mate "Where you from?"
"Paris" she said, matter of factly.
I wanted her to be from anyplace on the planet, but Paris. I looked at my Lipton meal for a good long while, chewing occasionally. She seemed to be going about her business, so I tried to finish eating. I had to choke down the last few bites, as my stomach was again having a fit. I did my dishes and got my side of the shelter cleaned up for the night.
The sky was clear now. I sat on the picnic table out front and watched the orange sky behind the shelter. Two young deer ran across the meadow in front of the shelter. Things seemed calm, but my head was rattled. In less than 24 hours my proposed 3 week hike was essentially ruined. The most upsetting part was that I couldn't figure out what was going on. I was getting to the point that I expected the next thing to happen to be more bizarre than the previous.
As the Sun hid behind the Earth, the air became much cooler. I decided to use the last of the twilight to get water for the next day. I got my water bottles and purifier together and told my humming shelter-mate I'd be right back. I followed the trail down to the water, thinking about my options for the next day, and the weeks to come. I was greeted at the spring by the white-wave of the deer's tails as the sprinted back across the meadow, snorting with every step. Nothing quite like nature to settle ones nerves.
I gathered up my three water bottles and filter, wondering if the water was any better because of it. I dropped, as I always do, one of the bottles and kicked it into the briars. You can always find a reason to cuss, if you want to. It was pretty close to dark when I got back to the shelter. As I came around the corner, I was again surprised by what I saw. The shelter was empty.
Now, I don't just mean that she was gone. I mean her gear was gone. Very unfortunately, I also mean MY gear was gone. I walked around the outside of the shelter to see if I could see any sign of her, or anyone, or anything. It was dark in the shelter, so I climbed in to feel around and make sure.
I again kick one of my water bottles. In the same corner that had earlier housed my stove, I found a tightly-rolled bundle of something. I knew it wasn't mine. I went back to the edge of the shelter floor.
I sat down and let my tired legs swing. The cold temps were causing my muscles to tighten, and the aches and pains became more noticeable. I cupped my face in my hands and put my elbows on my thighs. My face began throbbing, reminding me of the wound I'd received earlier in the day. I looked across the now black meadow and wondered what my next move will be. I was completely stunned.
I had no light, no food, no cloths, and no gear. I knew that there was supposed to be a bed and breakfast in the area, but I didn't know the area. There was no way I was going to go looking for something in the dark, with no flashlight. The only positives I could find was that I had water and a bundle of something. I decided that she had left the bundle for a reason. I climbed to the back of the shelter to see what was going to keep me company for the night.
There was a string tied around the bundle. I struggled in the darkness until I finally found the knot holding the string in place. It was no use, the knot was too tight to be untied. I had to force the string over the material until it slid off the edge. This task was made much more difficult by the fact that my hands were freezing. The bundle fell to the floor of the shelter and waited for me to pick it up.
I decided it would be best for me to try to get my hands warm again. I stood and blew into my hands as I did a little toe dancing to help warm my feet. I put my hands under my arms and sat against the shelter wall. I could sense the lifeless pile a few feet away. It was mocking me with its silence. Driving me crazy with curiosity.
After a few minutes, my hands seemed to be warm enough to be functional. I slowly made my way back to the center of my attention. I reached into the darkness and retrieved the pile. After inspecting it as well as a blind man could, I reached the conclusion that it was a sleeping bag. I quickly gathered my water bottles, removed my boots and climbed in. I got into the same corner that had earlier housed my stove, and yes, this very sleeping bag.
After about an hour, I began to warm up. I could hear the wind picking up, and I could feel it blowing through the cracks of the walls. I could feel something in the bottom of the sleeping bag and tried to retrieve it with my feet. After several minutes of playing cat and mouse, I was able to reach the object with my hands. It felt like a candy bar, still in the wrapper. I hurriedly opened it and took a nervous bite.
Oh, the "Candy Gods" were smiling on me. I found myself with a king-sized Snickers bar. I had never loved my brothers at the Mars company more than I did right now. "Packed with peanuts, Snickers really satisfies". I finished the bar and drank some water. I snuggled back into my corner and tried to get some sleep.
After several hours of tossing and turning, I could feel cold drops hitting my face. I looked out the front of the shelter to find the ground covered in new snow. If nothing else, it made it lighter out. It also made me think about what I was going to do next. The snow only acted as another hurdle I was going to have to clear to finish this trip. If, in fact, I was able to finish.
My thoughts turned to trying to plan my next move. I thought I would get up with the first light and head north. I was supposed to be close to a road, where I would hitchhike to a phone. Then what? Bus ticket home? Police? Ride to my vehicle? I had no keys with me. They were in my pack. Each option had its downside. I balanced them all until I fell back to sleep.
The sky began to lighten. I was eager to get going, to leave my overnight cell. I straightened my cloths while still in the bag. I got a drink and prepared my boots for quick access. I climbed out of the bag and into my boots. Once inside my boots, my feet felt like frozen hamburger. I couldn't wait to get moving to warm them up. I bent down to get my water bottles when I noticed something somewhat peculiar. The sleeping bag I had slept in was an old cotton, rectangle bag with the Double-Mint logo on it.
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